Start with Culture: Pranav Ahuja explains how—and why—to build a company culture

Pranav Ahuja on how to build your company culture—and why you should do so right from the start
Jul 8th, 2019  |  Pranav Ahuja
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Culture is the lifeblood of a business. At every level it affects how people interact, work and make decisions. But finding the “right” culture for your company—and knowing when and how to create it—can be tough for founders. 

That doesn't mean you should wait for a culture to spontaneously develop, though. According to Pranav Ahuja, the founder and CEO of Xeno, to successfully build a culture that will fit your business, you need to be proactive and intentional.

You hear a lot of founders say "company culture is really important", but Pranav points out it's also "one of the least talked about things" in terms of actionable guidance. He argues that this is because things like "sales are absolute—you go out and do something and you get money—but it's hard to see the benefits of really improving your culture."

Pranav explains that it's critical that founders establish their culture code early on and uphold those principles as their company scales. As he goes on to say, "we always have a way of working, whether we plan it or not," so it's valuable to be intentional about your culture upfront, instead of trying to "fix it" later on. 

What is Culture?

There are two components of culture - values and “way to work.” Every place has a certain way that people interact with each other and work alongside one another.

One thing that many people mistake for company culture is having bean bags in the office or offering free food to employees. In fact, a lot of companies will market these flashy offerings, but it's important to remember that that's not really culture.

Culture is an execution of our value system and our way to work. So when you think about culture, you need to think about your values, your beliefs, and the way you're going to interact with each other. Let's start from there.

"There is no right or wrong culture, there’s just a culture that's right for an individual person...For every person, there's going to be a mission, a purpose, and a group of people out there (which may or may not be a company) that's right for them."

Why Does Culture Matter?

Culture matters for three reasons:

  1. It gives you principles to make decisions. Those principles guide you on your strategy and align the entire team on the values that really matter.

  2. At your worst times, culture stops you from doing the wrong thing, and it helps you stay stable. When you are forced to make tough decisions and struggling to know what the right course of action is - you can go back to your culture code for guidance. When you face a tough decision, "the answer is already written - it's in your culture code,” explains Pranav.

  3. It creates trust - because you know what the other people in your organization are going to do. And you can comfortably take risks when that's true.

"Culture Happens"

We always have a "way of working", whether we plan it or not--which is why the best time to set it up is right now. Many founders think that the right time to start thinking about culture is when you start hiring, because you want your first few employees to have the same viewpoint as you. But it should be done before, when you first start the company. Think about it like this: when you start your company, you hire yourself and your co-founders as the first employees, so you want to make sure you have the same “way of working” on day one.

Another reason to do it now is it's really hard to fix later. A values system will develop around you, whether you like it or not, and failing to be intentional about that up-front will make it much more difficult to change in the long-run. 

There is no right or wrong culture, there is just a culture which is right for an individual person. ...For every person there's going to be a mission out there, a purpose out there, and a group of people out there (which may or may not be a company) that's right for them.

Pranav Ahuja
Pranav Ahuja is the CEO at Xeno.
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